The failure of the UK government to schedule a debate in parliament on the terms of the free trade deal with Australia has been criticised by MPs, including from within the Conservative party.
The agreement was formally laid before parliament on 15 June 2022, but it cannot be ratified until at least 21 sitting days have passed.
That period expired on Wednesday (20 July) without a debate taking place, despite a request being made by the International Trade Committee.
Government ministers had also previously given assurances that MPs would have an opportunity to discuss the deal.
Speaking in the House of Commons on Tuesday, Trade Minister Ranil Jayawardena argued that MPs have now had seven months to scrutinise the deal via various committees, and pointed out that legislation is still required, which will have to be approved by parliament.
Responding, Tory MP Anthony Mangnall referred to a previous statement by former Trade Secretary Liz Truss where she assured MPs government would facilitate a “world-leading scrutiny process”.
“This is the first wholly new trade agreement that we have signed since leaving the EU, but unfortunately it has not had the scrutiny it deserves,” said Mangnall.
Adding his view, Labour shadow secretary of state for Trade Nick Thomas-Symonds said government actions were “completely unacceptable and a clear breach of promise”.
A number of MPs also raised concerns about production standards in Australia.
Under the terms of the deal the UK has effectively given southern hemisphere producers free access to its beef, lamb and dairy markets.
Among 10 benefits of the deal listed by the UK government is “lower prices for British shoppers.”
Meanwhile, a group of seven green and agriculture lobby organisations have made a last-minute attempt to block the Australian trade deal, having lodged a legal challenge by way of a formal complaint to the Aarhus Convention.
The Aarhus Convention is a United Nations (UN) treaty for Europe which requires public consultation on decisions by governments that could impact the environment.
The various groups, which include Greenpeace, The Tenant Farmers’ Association and The Soil Association, warn that the deal will see the UK flooded with Australian goods, produced to lower environmental standards.